MEMORY CHECK #2
That was three hundred pictures of our church in action. Three hundred snapshots of who we were and who we are. Three hundred snapshots of FUMC Glen Rose; 125 years of ministry in about 2 ½ minutes; yet not a single one of those pictures defines who we were or who we are or who we will become. No single snapshot of the church can define it for all time. And yet, sometimes, that’s exactly what we try to do when we think about the church.
We try to define the church and our faith through one image; our favorite image or the most meaningful image in our own personal spiritual journey. We try to do the same thing with God. Unfortunately one snapshot, one image, one understanding of God is woefully inadequate.
I. DETERMINED NOT DEFINED:
A. I remember a brash young preacher who stood up in the pulpit one day and told his congregation, “I’d like to share with you how much I think you’ve grown over the past year.” And then he sat down.
I’ve been regretting that moment and repenting of that bad mistake ever since. I inadvertently hurt some of the best people in the church. That’s not who I am today. But I’m still in the ministry.
When our youngest son, Josh, was about three and a half years old, his brother, Paul, was bragging to his best friend, Curtis, about how smart Josh was. So, Curtis tested Josh and asked, “Hey, Josh, how much is 12 times twelve?”
In a very matter of fact, you ought to know this Curtis, kind of voice Josh said, “Curtis, 12 squared is 144.” That’s not who Josh is today. There may be a little of that matter of fact arrogance left and the math knowledge may have grown significantly but that’s not who Josh is today. And Josh is still my son.
I have a picture of my oldest son, Paul, that still floats in my head and my heart. It was our third Christmas, the very first one where we could actually afford to celebrate Christmas and so we went a little overboard. The three things I remember about that Christmas are: First, there were an awful lot of things to assemble before Christmas morning. Second, I had the flu and was running a temperature of about 102. And Third, after all the presents were open the next day, Paul had sorted all of his toys by shape and size and lined them up in a perfect little row. There they say under the tree. And he was over playing with all the empty boxes. That’s not who Paul is today. But Paul is still my son.
I have photos of my grandkids from the sonogram photos to photos of this past Christmas. I have photos of me holding them hours after they were born. I have photos of each of their baptisms; I held them as their pastor baptized them. I have photos of their first birthday parties and trips together and sports they play. But that’s not who they are, those are just snapshots of a portion who they are. But they’re still my grandsons.
B. A colleague told the story of how two women, Julia and Carol, who had grown up in the same town together as best friends and attended the same college together. Because of the circumstances of life, they hadn’t actually gotten together for over two years. They decided to meet in a small town half way between their homes for coffee and lunch and to catch up.
Two weeks prior to the journey, Julia’s husband, David, died unexpectedly. Carol saw it in the obituaries but had failed to call or write or anything. So when they met, the first few moments were rather awkward. But in those moments Julia assured Carol that it was OK, she had her church family which had helped and was still helping her through each day.
As the conversation progressed, Julia asked Carol about her father. Carol said, “Oh, Dad died last summer.”
Julia said, “I’m so, sorry. I really liked your father.”
This surprised Carol because her father worked such long hours in his Bakery, that he was hardly ever home. She asked, “So, you remember my father?”
Julia said, “Oh, yes, I remember your father quite well. I can still picture him in the bakery with his little white hat and that big white apron. He usually had a dusting of flour on a shoulder or the back of his hand. They were such gentle hands, too, as he picked out a raspberry filled donut just for me. Oh, I remember your father. Actually, I can remember you father better than I can remember my David.”
Why would she say such a thing? Why could she remember more about Carol’s father than about the man she had been married to for 45 years?
The reason is simple. Julia had a single snapshot of Carol’s father in the Bakery. She never saw him play soccer or go fishing or hunting. She never saw him when he was mad because one of his employees had stolen from the cash register. She hadn’t seen him teaching Carol how to bait a hook or swim or ride a bike. She didn’t see him in his duties as an usher or hear his beautiful baritone voice fill the sanctuary with O Holy Night on Christmas Eve. Julia only had one snapshot of Carol’s father. (1)
But there wasn’t a single snapshot which defined her husband David, it was more like a collage of snapshots or a movie. No single frame or picture could define the movie or a single snapshot define whole collage. There were so many it was hard to focus on just one.
The reason I’ve told you all those little stories is because while Who We Were Determines Who We Are; Who We Were doesn’t Define, who we are.
In the Apostle Peter’s first letter, he writes: 1 Peter 2:9-17 (NRSV)
 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.
 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
 For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme,
 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.
 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish.
 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.
At one time our nation held others in slavery but that doesn’t define us today. During the depression and for years afterwards, Glen Rose was where you came to buy moonshine. But that’s not who we are today. While all the pictures we have of all the activities and all the holy moments we’ve experienced in this Church, they are not who we are today. And if they don’t define us, they certainly don’t define God.
God will not be limited to a single snapshot of God either. That’s what God was telling Elijah when he hid in the cave after his victory over the idol Baal and the 500 prophets of Baal in what I like to call the Shoot Out at Mount Carmel.
Elijah stood trembling in fear for his life because of God’s victory. He’d been searching for God but now was alone and cut off. Jezebel and Ahab were out to get him because of what God had done. Elijah, despite his victory, was having a little pity party. “Woe, is me, I’m all alone. I’m the only one who stood up for You and now they’re after me. Wah, wah, wah.” It was there, in the midst of the pity party, that God called him and asked, “Elijah, what are you doing here? Why are you hiding out in the cave?”
Then God told Elijah to go and stand on the mountain for God was going to pass by. And in that epiphany of God passing by it’s clear that God said, Elijah, “Elijah, I’m not in the fire.”
And Elijah didn’t understand, “What mean you’re not in the fire. That’s how You spoke to Moses, in the fire of a burning bush. That’s how You lead the newly freed children of Israel, the baby nation, through the wilderness at night. A pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day.”
“What do you mean you’re not in the fire, God. You just obliterated 500 pagan prophets in the Shoot Out at Mount Carmel. You made roast beast and gravy out of their oxen and then turned them to ashes before they could taste it, to show how powerful You are.”
But there in the cave with Elijah trembling in fear, God said, “Elijah, I’m not in the fire.”
And then God said, “Elijah, I’m not in the wind.”
Again, Elijah didn’t understand. “What do you mean you’re not in the wind. It was the wind of Your spirit which set everything into motion. It was the wind of Your spirit that blew across the chaos and brought forth life. The wind of Your spirit breathed into the chaos of the void and created the world.
It was the wind of Your breath which breathed life in Your image into Adam and Eve and gave them Your spirit of creativity to be fruitful and populate the world.
What do you mean, You’re not in the wind, Lord. It was the very wind of Your breath which held back the waters of the Red Sea so the children of Israel could cross safely on dry land and escape from the Egyptian army breathing down their neck, ready to annihilate them. What do you mean you’re not in the wind? And God said, “Elijah, I’m not in the wind.”
Then God said, “Elijah, I’m not in the thunder, either.”
And again Elijah groaned, “What do you mean you’re not it the thunder. The very earth felt and heard Your thunder as You moved the mountains into place and scooped out the river beds. The earth heard and felt Your thunder as you raised the hills and lowered the valleys.
“What do you mean you’re not in the thunder? We saw and heard Your presence in the thunder on the Mountain when You gave us the Ten Commandments. We felt the very earth tremble at Your presence. It was that very thunder and shaking of the earth after three days of marching around the walls of the city, which brought down the walls of Jericho. What do you mean You’re not in the thunder?”
And God said, “Elijah, I’m not in the thunder, either. So, be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.
What Elijah discovered there in the cave is that just as we’re not limited to a single snapshot of who we are, God will not be limited to a single snapshot of God either. God is revealed in a hundred different ways throughout Scripture. Each of them is just one snapshot of the magnificent mosaic of who God is, was and will be.
The only full snapshot of God which we have ever seen was when Jesus walked the world in human form. But even then we were only limited to understanding a small portion of what we saw.
If we limit ourselves to one snapshot of God or even two or three as the basis for our faith, then we are limiting God. If we limit our understanding of God to what we learned in Confirmation, as good as any Confirmation Class might be, we still only have a Junior High understanding of a PHD sized God.
II. DEFINED IN GOD:
Peter tells us: “[We] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once [we] were not a people, but now [we] are God’s people; once [we] had not received mercy, but now [we] have received mercy.”
We are God’s people. We are a royal priesthood. And as such we are called to proclaim the mighty acts of God. But if we don’t continually engage with the LIVING God through prayer, Bible Study, small groups, personal devotion and the like, we won’t know what to share and we’ll be stuck in the past. Those past snapshots WILL define who we are today and we’ll never get out of the cave of our fears to engage the world in which God has called us to be active disciples.
It means letting God Define Who We Are. And that means finding, planning, and taking the time to be with God. We do that by disciplining ourselves and those around us so we can have that quiet time to simply soak up God.
It means, actively, knowingly and willingly submitting ourselves to learning not just about the Bible, but learning and letting the great truths of the Bible impact and mold our lives so when we are called upon to make disciples we don’t retreat into our caves like Elijah because we don’t know anything about what we say we believe, or we don’t know what to say or how to answer someone else’s questions when they ask about our faith.
It means making a conscious decision and a purposeful effort to be in Worship and Sunday School, Bible Study and daily devotions with your family as a part of your family’s fulfillment of your vows of membership and you commitment to Christ. It’s part of becoming disciples as we are making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Making the changes in your spiritual life that I’m suggesting isn’t as immediately tangible as upgrading your cell phone or connecting to Dish or DirectTV. It’s more like being sick and taking the regimen of antibiotics and steroids which the doctor prescribes. The first day or two you don’t feel any better. Sometimes you might even feel worse. But gradually, those antibiotics begin to work and your body starts to respond and heal.
It’s the same way with your spirit. There are no fast food fixes for the spiritual life. At first the changes in your spiritual life might not feel like they’re doing any good. Your spirit may even rebel a little. Your will may jump up and say, “I don’t want to do this.” But the more you submit yourself to God in obedience, by disciplining yourself to worship, to pray, to read and study the Scripture and to sit quietly with God, the more connected and centered you feel. Your life and your place in life begins to make a little more sense.
The caves you turn to hide in like Elijah don’t feel as comforting or as comfortable. And the cumulative effect of spending time with God begins to show in your life, in relationships, your attitudes and even your outreach. I know I’m an optimist but I also think the world just looks better through the eyes of faith and faithfulness.
One of my Preaching Journals ran a short story on Mike Myatt. Mike Myatt is a business “guru” and blogger for Forbes magazine. He ran an interesting post about leadership effectiveness. Myatt claims that if you want to learn to become a better leader in 2013 there’s one key that you’ll have to master—learn to surrender.
Myatt admits, “You’ll rarely encounter the words leadership and surrender used together in complementary fashion.” To my knowledge Myatt is not a believer nor does he write from a faith or even a spiritual perspective. He’s a business leadership expert who knows how leadership works. And he argues, “Assuming you surrender to the right things, surrender is not a sign of leadership weakness, but is perhaps the ultimate sign of leadership confidence.”
Myatt ended the article with a powerful quote: “The greatness of an [individual’s] power is the measure of [their] surrender.” (2)
This is something Jesus knew intrinsically. It’s something he practiced obediently. It’s what made Him who He was, Lord and Savior. There is power in obedience. There is power in surrender.
Elijah and Paul invite us out of the caves we are hiding in to claim who God has called us to be.
“You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
The only way we can make those claims is through obedience and surrender. God isn’t in the Fire, only. God isn’t in the wind, only. God isn’t in the thunder, only. God isn’t even in the silence, only.
God is everywhere, breaking into our lives in incredible ways, some of which we captured in those 300 snapshots of the church. Our obedience can be seen in those snapshots. Our surrender can be seen.
But where will God be seen next? If you don’t surrender and come out of the cave like Elijah and embrace the discipline of worship, prayer and study, how will you know.
REMEMBER “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”
But if you don’t surrender and embrace the discipline of worship, prayer and study, how will you know.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Adapted from a story told by John Bell at the 2012 Homiletics Festival
2. Sermon News: Forbes, December 26, 2012, Mike Myatt, Contributed by Matt Neace.
Other References Consulted